Shippers say deregulation must be full

Greece’s passenger shipping firms have reiterated their demand for changes to the law deregulating domestic sea transport in order, they say, for the passenger shipping sector to compete in a completely deregulated environment, free of state intervention, from January 1, 2004 onward. The shippers claim that the law, voted in 2001, does not provide for full deregulation because it allows the merchant marine minister to intervene and change shipping routes when claiming reasons of public interest. This provision was designed to allow the more remote Aegean islands to have regular services even in winter time. The present law also regulates economy-class fares, imposes a series of discounts on tickets and allows the State to dictate several strategic decisions, such as the age of the ship, the time a ship must spend in port and other things. Shippers also demand variability in the number of service-providing crew members, such as cooks and stewards, to account for varying seasonal needs. Domestic passenger shipping is supposed to be completely deregulated from the beginning of 2004, said the president of the Association of Passenger Shippers, Stelios Sarris, but in practice, Greek law «permanently enshrines state intervention.» Passenger shippers have demanded a series of amendments, most of which had been accepted by former Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis, who was replaced last week for reasons unrelated to the present dispute. A legal commission had been set up to study the shippers’ proposals. The association expressed its hope that new Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Paschalidis, who is considered much closer to Prime Minister Costas Simitis than his predecessor, will also approve the amendments. Shipowner Gerasimos Strintzis said that a great part of the approved increase in passenger fares, a weighted average of 4 percent, did not reach the shipowners but went to a variety of third-party recipients, including local authorities. «We want these levies in favor of third parties abolished. They add to the passengers’ cost,» Strintzis said.

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